I hitch the channel once again with Peter, my regular lorry-driving saint. I am migrating south for the winter and am feeling more excited than usual: I am not doing my usual route through what my friend Arjun describes as the Ordnung countries, where everything and everyone has to fit into boxes within society (Germany, Austria, Denmark…)
I meet my friend, Conor, in France. He is on week-one of an overland adventure to Japan. Together we travel to beautiful Ardeche and visit Françoise, my travel-buddy in Turkey last year.
I leave England once again and have one intention – to visit Norway. I get as far as Sara’s in Malmo, Sweden, and we spontaneously agree, “let’s go to Finland!” And so my Norway plans are put on hold and I board a ferry in Stockholm with Sara, her sister Lea and Lea’s daughter, Aviaja. Nothing can ruin my excitement about visiting Finland, not even the hideous ferry crossing where most people’s intention is to get paraletic, and where the security man threatens to confiscate our food. Apparently we are not allowed to bring food on a sixteen hour ferry crossing which doesn’t cater for vegans!
We arrive in Helsinki. I have wanted to visit this city for about ten years, but all I see of it is a ten minute tram ride to a hitchhiking spot. I vow to come back to Helsinki in a week or two, but fate has other ideas, and I never make it back there. I also never make it to Norway. I hitch alone northwards, whilst Sara and family take the train. We are heading to the Finland Rainbow Gathering (a hippie meet-up) in the countryside in Paukarlahti. I repeatedly mutter to myself, “I have never seen so many trees!” There is forest absolutely everywhere. Continue reading “Finland – The land of a thousand lakes, a million trees and ten million mosquitoes”
I have returned to England after spending most of the last three years in foreign lands. I want to keep an open mind and try not to let past prejudices cloud my judgements about England. Whilst travelling, I was pretty critical of the land where I am from, but was I being unjust?
On my return, I discover that the obsession with consumerism, celebrity and image is as prevalent as ever, that the media is just as untrustworthy and sexist, and that the government is just as horrific. But I discover two amazing things: that England’s nature is beautiful, and secondly, that people are friendly! As I walk through the streets of Brighton, people smile at me! Some even say hello. People like to chat here. I realise that a decade of living in London had given me the wrong impression of people in this country.
One day, a few years ago, I sat on the ground of a tea plantation in the mountains of Burma and refused to move. I cried and cried. My ex-boyfriend, Tom, reasonably tried to tell me that I was acting unreasonably. I sat there like a stroppy teenager. I was burnt out. I was exhausted from travelling, tired of meeting new people every day, tired of constantly packing my rucksack.
Iranians love Chris de Burgh. This puzzles me. They also love Leonard Cohen, which puzzles me far less. There are many other things about Iran that confuse me, and it would take far more than the two months I have to understand this intriguing culture. Having been here for over a month, I am somewhat embarrassed by my previous preconceptions about the country. I shake my head in disbelief when I think back to the woman who crossed the border one month ago, the woman who thought she couldn’t talk to men, that she wouldn’t hear music anywhere, that friends were not allowed to socialise.
When Sara and I meet our Portuguese friend Karina, we all decide that it is about time to start hitchhiking around Iran. The biggest problem is explaining what hitchhiking actually is, as it’s unheard of here, and paid ride-share is a common way to travel. So when three tourists don’t want to pay, locals are shocked. Often people form a group around us, discussing amongst themselves how impossible it is. It is, however, completely possible, and we usually never have to wait more than a few minutes. The magic word is “salavaati”…it’s a religious charity word, and as soon as we say this, locals understand that we won’t pay!
Hitchhiking enables us to get to beautiful desert places, such as the Zoroastrian religion pilgrimage temple in Chak Chak, deep in the mountains.
I hitchhike with my friend, Sara, from Turkey to the Iran border.
The first Iranian we meet is a border guard, and possibly the most beautiful man Sara and I have ever seen. We look at each other and burst into fits of giggles. Since that day, Sara and I have been constantly commenting on how good looking Persian people are. The women, in particular, are stunning.
From the border we hitch a bus to Tabriz. Tabriz is crazy in the daytime…people, cars and men pulling carts of goods everywhere. Not at all like Turkey! The population here is Azeri (Iranian Azerbaijan), and not Persian. Their language is similar to Turkish (luckily for us). We are told that the government is trying to phase out their language by teaching only Farsi in schools. We learn that Iranian people are unbelievably helpful. If you ask an Iranian for directions, they will literally stop what they are doing and take you there themselves. Which is just as well, because simple things like changing money seem impossible without local help!
After a month in England and a quick visit to Germany, I arrive back in Olympos, Turkey, with a huge grin on my face. I am back in paradise. I am very lucky to have a friend, Yucel, who lets me stay at his pension. I spend a week swimming in the sea and making new friends.
I have spent five months hitchhiking east, and now I find myself in Georgia, where it is easy to get a ride (you never wait more than a few minutes) and where the locals are very friendly. I spend a few days walking in the mountains and hitchhiking around with my friend Françoise.
I have been travelling with my friend Naomi for a week or two, from Belgium, through Luxembourg and into France. We continue our adventure down to the south of France. The generosity of the French surprises me, and it’s the only country I have hitchhiked where most of my lifts have been from women. We sleep in many places: a couple invite us into their holiday home at the Cote d’Azur, another woman feeds us in her mountain home….we sleep on the rocks of the coast, and on balconies of summer homes that are not yet being used. We carry on travelling through hideous Nice and the even more hideous Monte Carlo.